An updated version of the Vehicle Maintenance Records System (VMRS) is positive news for fleet managers in their quest to hold the line on costs. The system itself is not new, dating back to the early 1970s, but these latest refinements are welcome additions.

VMRS was originally the product of the Truck Maintenance Council (TMC), known in those days as the RCCC Maintenance Committee. The American Trucking Associations group of fleet managers who were members then gets credit for identifying the need for a common coding system. Using VMRS, every repair activity is coded with a system of numbers that identify what was done and what part and system was repaired.

Among other things, the revised VMRS adds codes for off-road equipment and other non-traditional vehicles used by utility fleets, cable companies, and others.

Understanding the Benefits
The easiest way to understand the benefit of VMRS is to envision a service technician working on a vehicle. The problem is electrical - the battery is not recharging. A test indicates the battery itself is fine. Next, all the components that feed the battery: the wires, the alternator, etc., are examined.

Once identified, the repair must be recorded accurately. VMRS allows a details record of the failure. The code can be stopped at electrical, or be recorded at the next level - an alternator failure. The code can be detailed to the smallest level. There are codes for the bolt that holds the pulley, the bracket that holds the pulley, and the fastener for the bracket.

The system allows the technician to record and classify maintenance procedures and identify failures. A maintenance records system, this data can be used for many kinds of analysis.

Here is yet a another example of the use of the coding system. The first digits are year, make, and model. Following are vocation, over the road, pick up and delivery, etc. Next are codes to identify the system, for example, electrical. Then further, code for the subsystem or part, in this case, the alternator.

Identifying Brand Names
Borrowing from the Duns system in which assigns each manufacturer a unique number, the VRMS developers identified each item manufacturer. Failures can then be quantified by brand name to compare one against another.

For rental car fleets, which turn vehicles every six months, this new system may not be of much value. On the other hand, for a high-mileage fleet, particularly those performing maintenance in-house, the system will demonstrate its worth many times over.

Developing the System
Legions of great stories abound about the early discussions of this new VRMS system. One in particular is noteworthy.

An over-the-road truck fleet had experienced a considerable number of speedometer failures. Using VMRS, the fleet could document almost to the mile when the instrument would fail. The manufacturer agreed the failure was a product error and replaced the speedometers.

At a roundtable discussion, this situation was described as a positive way to use VMRS. A problem remained, however. The replacement speedometers failed at exactly the same interval as the initial units. It seems that the instrument was highly touted, and the manufacturer’s representative insisted it was an excellent unit, used on passenger cars for many years. The truck fleet manager who had experienced the problem simply laughed and said that he operated more miles in a year than most passenger cars see in a lifetime.

Assume fleet records show that the bracket holding the alternator is the problem. Repeatedly, these brackets are failing in a matched set of vehicles. It wouldn’t take long for a fleet manager to realize that it would be a good preventive measure to replace all the brackets before they fail. If the vehicles are still under warranty, the manager has a great set of records to show why the manufacturer might want to assist in the cost of these repairs.

With this data in hand, not only can fleet managers determine costs, but also clearly define the exact nature of the expenses. Without a VMRS-type system, the only certainty was that there was an electrical problem. In the best scenario, someone might have written a notation on the repair order to indicate that the bracket was the issue, not the alternator or another source.

Comparing Costs
Fleet managers who want to compare costs with other fleets in an industry goup setting use VMRS to target costs and thereby try to reduce them. The following are fleet managers’ comments about the new version of VMRS.

Ron Fordahl at GE Commercial Finance-Fleet Services is in charge of the maintenance control center. He and his staff manage a fleet of 250,000 units under a modified VMRS system for several years. According to Fordahl, the new VRMS system is a welcome development for many reasons. First and foremost, he applauds the inclusion of other vehicles in the coding. For many years, GE Fleet Services has had to improvise a system to include these vehicles in the program. Keep in mind, says Fordahl, that the technician on the phone is trained to think in terms of the reason the vehicle was brought into the shop. Is it repair, inspection, recall, etc.? Next, GE Fleet Services wants to know exactly what they are being charged. If just a pulley is needed, why pay for more?

Bret Watson, CAFM, project manager for fleet administration for Sprint also had some observations about VMRS. The coding has been used on his long-distance fleet for several years, not only for maintenance control, but also to spot failure trends.

The Sprint fleet is an example of the type of fleet with many non-vehicle equipment pieces Watson is excited that other fleet managers may be joining and allowing him to compare data on a like-for-like basis. Two fleets could have the same make and model vehicle, but the application could be totally different. In addition, Watson has many options on his vehicles that may not be utilized at other fleets.

In Palm Beach County, Fla., Doug Weichman, CAFM, director of fleet management, uses a modified VMRS system to record all repairs. Weichman states that every fleet probably does things a little differently, but the idea of comparing cost data is always of interest to fleet managers. This is especially true for comparisons of equipment in similar vocations.

TMC has a wealth of data available on the VRMS system and its latest update. Fleet managers everywhere agree that problem identification is the first step in problem solving. When it comes to vehicle maintenance, nothing replaces knowing your costs.